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The Impact of Intergenerational Programs on Youth

Intergenerational programs have proven, over and over, to be of great benefit to all ages involved, yet still, in the United States, intergenerational friendships are the exception rather than the rule: for the most part, age segregation prevails.

Kids spend their days at school, mostly among peers born the same year they were. Young and middle-aged adults cluster at work. And elders gather for clubs, classes, and meals that often expressly bar the young. Millions of college students and elders live in age-restricted housing, and most American neighborhoods skew either young or old.

As our society becomes more and more age segregated, there are fewer and fewer opportunities for the generations to come together, which creates more isolation and lack of understanding. That’s why intergenerational programs like those pioneered by Bessie’s Hope are so critical for a healthy and empowered society. Everyone benefits.

So far, this month, we have shared a lot about how these relationships can benefit elders’ emotional, mental, and physical health. But neither the need nor the benefits are one-sided. That’s why this week we are focusing on the endless benefits for today’s youth.

When people are raised in different time periods, their values and perceptions of the world can be quite different, and this can lead to difficulties in understanding one another. Therefore, one of the biggest risks when generations are separated from one another is the development of ageism and other prejudices and misunderstandings. [Learn more about ageism.]

Ageism is not just a threat to elders in our society, it effects everyone. Words like “investment” and “gain” are used when speaking about funding for youth and words “spending” and “drain” are used when speaking about funding for our elders. So many things, including the lack of exposure to one another, makes it easy for them to see one another as rivals or something to fear. When people of all ages get to know one another, they tend to unite around shared goals instead. When generations work together, this breaks down stereotypes, changes attitudes and lives, fosters mutual empathy, and improves communities. Intergenerational partnerships allow each group to see the other as valuable human beings with so much to share with each other.

The youth in these relationships are not just learning respect and empathy for others, they see role models for their own future. They are learning not just the value of other people, they learn to value themselves.

And there’s more. Interacting with older adults enables youth to develop social networks, communication skills, problem-solving abilities, as well as a sense of purpose and community service. Youth involved in intergenerational programs are
* 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs.
* 27% less likely to begin using alcohol.
* 52% less likely to skip school.
* 33% less likely to hit someone.In short, intergenerational programs could be the best resource for the young people of today. Connecting generations is something that we at Bessie’s Hope feel honored to do for the elders, the youth, and all of society. Learn more about our Youth & Elders Program here.